What if you were replaced by a robot suffering from acne?
VirtuOz, a French company that normally makes smart bots for websites like the French Post Office and Railway (Answering questions like: “What is the nearest train station to Aix-en-Provence?”), just launched a free consumer version of their artificial intelligence robot.
Skaaz is an online avatar suffering from an oversized head and acne who answers questions you have pre-programmed explicitly or entered through a series game-like questionaires. For now, it is only available in French.
Why do I want this?
The idea behind Skaaz is a variation on the continuous presence theme. Instead of the instant feedback of Jaiku or Twitter that tells people “what are you doing now?”, Skaaz will tell people about your broader preferences. You could put in your favorite color, car or restaurant, for example. That way, a person interacting with the bot could get to know you, even if you are not online. By the time you do actually get online, people have finished all the chit chat with your bot and you can get into the substantive stuff. It is possible even to imagine that Skaaz bots could be programmed to seek other bots loaded with similar interests.
How do they make money?
Since Skaaz is a watered-down version of the commercial-strength system used by the French post office and railways, presumably they could offer more functionality at a price. This would allow more complex questions and and subtle interaction. Advertising could also be worked into the bots fairly easily when it comes to recommendations.
While VirtuOz clearly has experience on the output side (answering questions) it will be a challenge to get users to input enough information to make the bots knowledgeable about their owner. There could be real strength in tying Skaaz to a back end like Facebook or Last.fm, where users have already expressed many views and preferences.
Due to the limited amount programmed into one person’s bot, the power of Skaaz might come more with crowdsourcing rather than from the knowledge of one bot. Imagine asking a large community of Skaaz bots to tell their favorite restaurant. This would turn the Skaaz technology into a search solution for personal recommendations from a large community.
Here is my Skaaz. Click here to chat with my virtual self.